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Skype's new workspace portal aims to boost small businesses

The awkwardly named 'Skype in the workspace' connects you with experts, consultants, and possibly even new customers.

Not all social networks work well as professional networks. (I'm looking at you, Facebook.) But there's no question that businesses--especially small ones and startups--could benefit greatly from a social network with a professional bent.

That's the idea behind Skype in the workspace, which launched to the public late last week following a six-month beta test. It's designed to help small businesses connect quickly to potential partners, suppliers, consultants, and customers around the world.

All you do is sign into your existing Skype or LinkedIn account, create a profile, then click Create an opportunity.

An "opportunity," in SITW parlance, means asking a question, offering your skills or services, or sharing your experience via a Skype session (voice, chat, video, etc.). You can include a photo or video if needed, along with a description of the question or offer. You can also specify a time for the session, ranging from 5-30 minutes.

The main SITW lists the latest opportunities for your perusal, though you can also search the listings for something specific (like, say, a writer-for-hire, or someone who specializes in financial management).

So, yeah, it's more like a "Craigslist for business" than a "Facebook for business," as there's not really a social element save for the actual meeting aspect.

Still, there's some good potential here for small businesses and startups looking for a free and easy way to market their services, or to learn more about important subjects--like, say, marketing their services. (A quick search for "marketing" reveals all kinds of SITW opportunities.)

The key advantage, of course, is the massive built-in network of existing Skype users: "With more than 280 million connected users each month, Skype offers a huge range of contacts for the small business community," said Ural Cebeci, Head of SMB Marketing at Skype. "We aim to connect millions of small businesses with Skype in the workspace and believe that by taking advantage of this shared network, businesses can develop the range of tools they need to grow, regardless of location or industry. From the designer in San Francisco looking to source textile suppliers in Thailand, to the London consultant connecting with clients in Milan, the possibilities are endless."

That may be true, but I have some doubts as to whether SITW will really catch on. Ebay famously discovered that strangers don't want to use Skype to conduct business, and to me SITW smacks of the same kind of forced interactions that make many people uncomfortable.

Still, it's another avenue for free marketing, so there's little harm in creating a few opportunities and seeing how they fare. Who knows? Skype in the workspace might just be the network your business needs to succeed.

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